Wislawa Szymborska is one of my very favorite poets. Her work is often both abstract and specific, and she combines remarkably evocative imagery with a variety of emotions, ranging from frustration to detached interest to dry humor. She is one of the few things I got out of a college lit class that was worth remembering.
Poems New and Collected is a retrospective of her work, and spans forty years of poetry. My favorites were probably from the pieces published in her 1972 work Could Have, though I liked poems from her entire collection. She writes on a variety of themes, including love, death, and most often what it means to be a part of humanity, and the collective experience thereof. It's kind of interesting to see how the themes change and develop over the course of forty years of writing.
The piece below is an example of one of her shorter works, this time from 1957's Calling Out to Yeti.
The hour between night and day.
The hour between toss and turn.
the hour of thirty-year-olds.
The hour swept clean for roosters' crowing.
The hour when the earth takes back its warm embrace.
The hour of cool drafts from extinguished stars.
The hour of do-we-vanish-too-without-a-trace.
Rock bottom of all the other hours.
No one feels fine at four a.m.
If ants feel fine at four a.m.,
we're happy for the ants. And let five a.m. come
if we've got to go on living.
It's brief, and it's simple, but it paints such a clear picture of a particular time and emotion.
For those who like poetry and don't mind a bit of a challenge, I'd highly recommend this.